The province’s chief medical officer of health said Albertans are more at risk of catching influenza than they are of coronavirus from China.
The United States confirmed its first case of the virus in Washington State on Tuesday, but Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the risk to Albertans is very low.
“There’s no cases in Canada and no cases in Canadian travellers,” Hinshaw said, adding an advisory was sent to front-line clinicians to be on alert and to ask for travel histories for patients coming in with a cough and fever.
Hinshaw said Tuesday she was not surprised to see an exported case of the virus.
“To me, this reinforces the fact the surveillance countries across the world are putting in place are catching cases, which is exactly what we need to be doing so the proper infection control processes can happen,” she said.
Symptoms of the virus include fever and difficulty breathing, the World Health Organization said. The virus, which can be passed between humans, can also cause pneumonia.
More than 300 cases have been reported in China and other countries in South East Asia, such as Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. At least six deaths have been reported by Chinese authorities.
Millions of people will be travelling within and to China for Lunar New Year, which is Saturday, meaning the virus could spread even further. It is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan and likely emerged from an animal market.
“We are doing, as many other countries are doing, a lot of work to be prepared in a precautionary way so even with that increased travel, I think the measures we’re taking in Alberta will keep Albertans safe,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw said the virus is relatively new but so far, it does not have the same fatality rate as SARS, another coronavirus that broke out in China, which killed nearly 800 people around the world in 2002 to 2003.
She said this coronavirus differs from SARS in that there was little information shared when the SARS outbreak began but now information from Chinese officials is being shared in a real-time manner.
“I think we’ve learned from SARS that in responding to this, we need to be cautious at the outset.
“Even if it turns out this particular coronavirus isn’t as severe as SARS, we’re not taking chances.
“We’re making sure again to send out messages to be cautious with our approach and to quickly identify and isolate any potential cases,” Hinshaw said.
Late last week, U.S. health officials began screening passengers from Wuhan at three U.S. airports — New York City’s Kennedy Airport and the Los Angeles and San Francisco airports. On Tuesday, the CDC announced it will add Chicago’s O’Hare airport and Atlanta’s airport to the mix later this week.
Some advice from Hinshaw for those travelling to China:
- Do not visit live animal markets
- Do not be where live animals are slaughtered
- Avoid contact with animal droppings
- Wash hands frequently
- Call a health centre if you are feeling ill and have visited Wuhan or another area where the virus is known to be circulating
The World Health Organization will meet Wednesday to discuss whether the outbreak constitutes a global health emergency.
WATCH: Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Tuesday that there have been no cases reported of the coronavirus from China in Canada, but they have measures in place should they detect the virus is moving and will take additional steps if required. She added there are no plans for travel restrictions at this time, but there are notices in airports about the virus.
-with files from Reuters and Global News